Sumit Sharma, Associate Director, Earth Science and Climate Division, TERI

We come from a background of scientific knowledge in this field and we try to provide scientific evidence on what is the state of air pollution, what is the impact it is causing and how this can be solved. So when we analyse the problem what you find is that pollution levels are extremely high. On an annual average basis you can see that PM2.5 levels are more than 3 times the annual average prescribed standard. We must also understand that our Indian air quality standard is quite relaxed in comparison to the international standard.

So that means we need quality which is much, much higher in terms of pollutant level concentrates if you compare it with current standards. These are the things of annual average values but if you talk about specific seasons then in winters the values increase tremendously. They go up to 300 micrograms, 400 micrograms and sometimes during very high air pollution episodes they go to up 700, 800 micrograms per m3, I’m talking about PM2.5 here.

So these situations are extremely problematic for people breathing with respiratory illnesses and also it creates an atmosphere which is not good for human health in both short and longer terms.

In winter what happens is, meteorological changes occur, wind speeds go down and planetary boundary layer comes down so both these things do not allow the pollution to disperse freely. That means the pollution levels accumulate within a small region. So emissions are constantly coming from different sources and these emissions get trapped in a small area and that gives rise to a high concentration of pollution in a particular area. That’s the main reason why you have more levels in winter in comparison to summer.

If you talk about emission sources, we must read the source apportionment study conducted for the city of Delhi. It tells you that, and I’m now talking about winters which have more variation, about 25% of PM2.5 comes from vehicular sector, 25% from biomass burning and that mainly happens outside Delhi, in the provincial regions, in rural kitchens or in agricultural fields. Then 30% comes from secondary particulates, these are formed by the gases like SO2, NOx and ammonia. When they react in the atmosphere they convert into secondary particulates. So these become part of the PM2.5 after the reactions and they have a share of 30% in the PM2.5 concentrations during winters in Delhi.

SO2 comes from industries, power plants, while NOx comes from the transport sector it comes from farmers while ammonia mainly comes from the agriculture sector, livestock and these kind of things. And then so 25% vehicles, 25% biomass, 30% secondary, the last 20% in winters is contributed by refuse burning, road dust resuspension, construction dust and these other sources.

I think the situation is really not good, every year we are seeing these winters which are not clean by any means so it is going to take some time in my opinion because there are things which you can do immediately, for example, enhancement of public transport. Now for the last few years actually, there is this demand of more and more buses on the roads of Delhi, which has not been met and I think it’s high time these tenders are floated and they procure more buses which can make people shift to public transportation modes from their own private modes. This is something that can be immediately done. Control on construction dust, control on road dust. All these things can be controlled on an immediate basis. But there are a few things which are going to take some time. For example, biomass burning. Biomass burning is either happening in rural kitchens or in agricultural fields. Now for rural kitchens there is a big LPG penetration programme going on at the central (government) level which is working much much faster than before but it’s also an economic problem that they cannot directly shift to LPG because for them it is an expensive fuel in comparison to what they are using right now, that’s firewood. So that shift is going to take some time. Similarly agricultural biomass burning, there is a ban on agricultural biomass burning but then farmers have little option actually to move to. People are talking about converting these residuals into energy and using them in powerplants but then all these things will require infrastructure for collection, for storage and then processing so all this is going to take sometime and we cannot assume this will happen over night.

Before October, until September we analysed the data and what we found was that there was a small dip in concentrations in comparison to last year. But after October the situation has become almost the same. If you see the levels we received in the last one or two weeks they were actually very, very high. So in terms of air pollution episodes I don’t think we have made a significant improvement but I will wait for the data for the next month and a half to compare the whole year of data and come up with the annual averages.

Some efforts have been done at central level, some have been done at the state level. If you see at the central level they have introduced the BS (Bharat Stage) 4 vehicular emission allowance and they have announced that from 2020 they will have the best BS 6 norms in place which should control pollution from the vehicle sector. They have also, the petroleum industry, has also announced that 10ppm standard for fuel will be available from the next year in Delhi and this will push the automobile industry to provide better technology a little before the deadline of 2020 and that should help the cause.

The central government are also pushing for this LPG penetration programme (for cooking) which is basically an energy access programme but it will have implications over pollution levels also and that should also help.

Other than this the ministry of transport at the central level is also considering a fleet modernisation programme by which they would like to phase out the older vehicles and replace them with the newer vehicles. Then a number of fuel efficiency standards have been introduced for cars and for trucks and that should also help to some extent to reduce pollution.

Emission allowances for power plants have also been introduced. Earlier we did not have any emission allowance for SO2 and NOx from power plants and power plants are one of the major sources of SO2 and NOx in India. Now they have been introduced but the question now is enforcement. How early we will be able to enforce these norms is a key question in the power sector.

Then for control of open burning and of refuse there have been bans which have been introduced and the government is trying to form teams and send them to the fields to enforce the law but despite all their efforts burning keeps happening. Mainly because there is no clear solution in hand for farmers. They are trying to see from the satellite pictures where the burning is happening and they’re going there and trying to control it. For refuse burning, the state government has introduced an application, it’s a mobile app where if you see a fire you can take a picture and send it to them with the location of the fire and they will immediately arrange to put the fire out.

So these are the kind of things they are trying to do to enforce the ban on open burning. As the state government they also tried the cleaning of the road with the vacuum cleaning machine and they also trying to do some sprinkling of water, which actually, in my opinion is not a great solution considering we don’t have so much water freely available and also it doesn’t help in the longer term. So other than this, state government is expanding the metro network and ridership in the metro is expected to go up. They tried the odd-even scheme but in my opinion odd-even is something that can only work if you try it very infrequently. Only when there is a big emergency, you apply it. If you make it quite regular then people will start finding alternatives and the small impact of the odd-even schemes will go away. But these are the things which are going on. But so many other things are required which can control pollution rather than being ad-hoc measures which sometimes are not so good.

If you see, specifically in the vehicular sector, it’s the older vehicles which are having a major share in the pollution generated from vehicles. So you need to think about improving inspection and maintenance system in the city. Our current I&M (inspection and maintenance) system is quite outdated, and we now need to move to the latest onboard diagnostic systems. Our new cars are actually fitted with OBD systems (Onboard diagnostic) and we must now improve our inspection and maintenance to these advanced systems so we can catch the high emitters, the vehicles which are high emitting and ask them to go for maintenance before they can ply on the roads.

Also (there is) the fleet modernisation, so you convert all your buses to CNG but the interstate buses are still driving on diesel. There are many of them and they keep coming to Delhi and some of them are of very old vintages and they belong to very old technology and they still pollute. So we need to think of fleet modernisation of vehicles which are either plying in Delhi or coming to Delhi and we must put these restrictions in place to reduce emissions from these sources. Similarly from trucks. When you move to BS 4 from 2017 but what about the older trucks which are still entering Delhi and emitting at high rates. So we must think about restrictions of older, very old polluting vehicles entering Delhi and ask them to shift to newer technology.

Public transportation is the key as I have said also, we need more buses on the roads so we can ask people to shift to public transport modes. You’re putting odd-even schemes in place but then you’re not giving an alternate option for people to switch to. How would people commute if you put the restriction. So what we suggested was to put up a condition pricing scheme in Delhi, at least in specific zones, what that would do is ask high polluting vehicles to pay for their movement in the city and the revenues collected from this scheme can be used for enhancement of public transport. So these are the things which we’re trying to push on the vehicular sector.

On the other sectors, like agricultural burning what we’ve always said is that we need to put a price on the biomass which is being burnt. So farmers are burning because they’re finding it expensive to cut, store and send it somewhere. So we need to give them some price so they can cut it and transport it to a facility where this can be converted into fuel, which is like briquettes or pellets biomass based fuel which can be used in industry or can be used in local restaurants or houses where people are already burning wood. So at least you stop the duplication of biomass burnt at two different places. So all these things are required. A business model is required in this case. Wherein you give some money to the farmers so he stores, he collects and he sends it to a facility where it gets converted to pellets which again can be sold to provide a payback to the whole system. So this is for agriculture burning then the third thing is of industries.

I spoke about secondary particulates and as I said SO2 is coming from industry. So we need to put standards for SO2 and NOx control in industry. You’ll be surprised to know we don’t have a standard for many industries for control of SO2 and NOx so we need to make the standard available and enforce them with stringency on all industries. I think these are the main things.

Emissions measuring schemes can be developed for the industrial sector so the enforcement can be improved.

We have a vision for a cleaner India. So we submitted this document to the minister of environment and forests for his consideration. What we feel is it’s not a problem of Delhi alone, if you see the whole Indo-Gangetic plain it is covered with heavy pollution. Because the whole area is high emission intensity and also filled with population and agricultural activity, that means it’s not only the sources that are available but you also have the highest number of receptors which are available here. People’s exposure is very high, the agricultural exposure to ozone levels is very high and that’s why you have such a high health impact in this region and agricultural impact. So what we’re trying to say is that you make clean air a priority through a clean air mission on the lines of Swach Bharat which you already have so that you work on a mission mode in which targets are set for achieving air quality and also for reducing emissions in the sectors in a time worn manner and then only this problem will be sorted out. Otherwise if we only deal with cities and a lot of pollution is coming from outside the cities then we will never be able to achieve our air quality standards.